California Could Test Self-driving Cars, Nevada’s There Already

SACRAMENTO, California, March 4, 2012 (ENS) – California State Senator Alex Padilla Thursday rode up to the State Capitol in Sacramento, but he wasn’t doing the driving – his car was.

A Democrat who represents the Pacoima district in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley region, Padilla arrived in a Google-designed self-driving Toyota Prius.

With a Google Inc. executive at his side, Padilla held a news conference to announce his legislation, Senate Bill 1298, which directs the California Highway Patrol to develop guidelines for the safe testing and operation of autonomous vehicles in California.

“It was pretty amazing when Google’s vehicle went into self-driving mode,” said Senator Padilla. “The drive was smooth and safe. It worked flawlessly. It is a testament to human ingenuity and the power of technology in California.”

Google self-driving car at the California Capitol (Video image courtesy Office of Senator Padilla)

Anthony Levandowski, Google product manager, told reporters, “California is our home state. Our self-driving cars have safely traveled more than 200,000 miles here. We’re very fortunate to have found a supporter with a strong technical background in Senator Padilla, and we look forward to working with him throughout this process.”

Last year, similar legislation was signed into law in Nevada, and in February Nevada became the first state to allow the testing of self-driving cars on public roadways.

“Nevada is the first state to embrace what is surely the future of automobiles,” said Department of Motor Vehicles Director Bruce Breslow. “These regulations establish requirements companies must meet to test their vehicles on Nevada’s public roadways as well as requirements for residents to legally operate them in the future.”

In addition, Arizona, Hawaii, Florida and Oklahoma are all currently considering autonomous vehicles legislation.

Google and other automakers, including BMW, Audi and Volvo, have been developing driverless technologies to achieve improved fuel efficiency, increased roadway capacity and greater safety.

Stanford University professor Sebastian Thrun, who guides the Google project, and Google engineer Chris Urmson explained at a technical conference last September that the “heart” of their system is a laser range finder mounted on the roof of the car.

The Velodyne 64-beam laser generates a detailed 3D map of the car’s surroundings. The car then combines the laser measurements with high-resolution maps of the world, producing different types of data models that allow it to drive itself while avoiding obstacles and respecting traffic laws.

In addition, the Google car carries four radars, mounted on the front and rear bumpers, that allow the car to “see” far enough to be able to handle fast freeway traffic.

A camera, positioned near the rear-view mirror, detects traffic lights. A GPS, inertial measurement unit and wheel encoder determine the vehicle’s location and keep track of its movements.

Padilla, whose own vehicle is a hybrid gasoline-electric car, said the autonomous cars will be safer than cars operated by human beings.

“The vast majority of vehicle accidents are due to human error. Through the use of computers, sensors and other systems, an autonomous vehicle is capable of analyzing the driving environment more quickly and operating the vehicle more safely,” he said. “Autonomous vehicles have the potential to significantly reduce traffic fatalities and improve safety on our roads and highways.”

“Advancement and deployment of autonomous vehicles will not only save lives, it will create jobs,” said Padilla. “California is uniquely positioned to be the global leader in this field.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.